Campaign 2004 may be drawing to a close, but our call to be "faithful citizens" will continue.
The moral priorities identified by the bishops in Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility, and the issues implicated by those priorities, will remain.
These issues and priorities will be part of the challenge faced by whichever candidates are successful on Nov. 2. They will, one hopes, also endure as a vital part of the personal agenda of faithful citizens in Wisconsin and elsewhere across our nation.
Our ability to advance these moral priorities will depend on our unity as Catholics after the election. Our unity, in turn, will depend in large measure on our civility in the final days of this national debate.
In the closing days of the campaign the rhetoric will get heated. Passions will run high.
Passion is constructive when it motivates us to care deeply about important values. But like anything else, too much passion blinds us to the humanity of other people.
That is why faithful citizens can make an important contribution to the debate in this emotionally charged political "stretch run" by modeling civility in their discourse.
Civility is essential to any authentically Catholic approach to public debates. For our commitment to upholding the dignity of the human person is made stronger when we recognize such dignity in our opponents.
This respect starts with assuming the best, not the worst, of those who disagree with us. It means we presume they are as sincere in their motives as we want people to presume that we are sincere in ours.
Civility means we interpret what they say in the most favorable light as opposed to fixating on the weakest point in their argument to discredit them. Rather than ridicule, we take seriously the legitimate concern that may be at the root of even the most questionable statement they might make.
In this sense, civility serves us well in the long run. For the victory won by the tactic of ridiculing or marginalizing our opponent is built on sand.
On the other hand, a victory won after taking opponents seriously and engaging the strongest point in the other side's case will rest on a much firmer foundation.
Moreover, those who lose the argument are much more likely to accept the outcome in good grace if they believe they were treated with respect and their views judged on their merits.
Civility also serves the cause of our unity as a people of faith.
Polls suggest that Catholics are as divided as the rest of the nation in choosing between the candidates. Nearly half of those who vote on Nov. 2 will be disappointed.
Five days after the election Catholic voters will gather for the Sunday liturgy. They will come together to hear the story in the liturgy of the Word and to break the bread in the liturgy of the Eucharist.
We are all served if we strive, in the final days of this heated campaign, to avoid saying or doing anything to our fellow citizens that will make that coming together on Nov. 7 more difficult.
The values and moral priorities described in Faithful Citizenship have enriched America's pre-election conversation. By modeling civility to each other and by celebrating our unity after a close and heated debate, Catholics can make yet another contribution to our nation's public life.
John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
November: Month of the holy souls
This year Catholic Cemetery Sunday will be observed Nov. 7. It is appropriate that this commemoration be held in November, the month of the holy souls.
It is a time when the Catholic Church encourages us to pray for our beloved dead and to especially remember those faithful departed with no one to pray for them.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of the significance of praying for our faithful departed. Article 12, "I believe in everlasting life," #1032 states, "From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them . . . so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God."
Lest we are under the mistaken impression that prayer for the dead is without spiritual value to the living, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 9, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church," #958, states, "Our prayer for them is not only capable of helping them (the deceased) but also makes their intercession on our behalf more effective."
The observance of Cemetery Sunday provides Catholic cemeterians a special opportunity to highlight our cemeteries as sacred places where the bonds between the living and dead are most apparent. It is a day to invite our families to visit and to pray for the faithful departed who in turn will pray for them.
Our Catholic cemeteries give powerful and enduring witness that our community of faith transcends our earthly existence and that the bonds we share are unbroken by time or earthly death.
"Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen."
Mark Christian is president of the National Catholic Cemetery Conference.
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
Offices: Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, 702 S. High Point Road, Madison
Mailing address: P.O. Box 44985, Madison, WI 53744-4985
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